Engendering Gender: A neuroscientific examination of parental gender socialization in early childhood

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


The aim of this dissertation was to examine the predictors and consequences of parental gender socialization in early childhood. Parental gender socialization encompasses all ways in which parents transmit gendered information onto their children. To address this aim, one conceptual review was performed and data from three independent studies were analyzed. One study concerned electroencephalography (EEG) data of 25 young adults aged 22 – 31 years. The second study included EEG data, observations, and survey data from families consisting of a father, a mother, and son and daughter aged 3 – 6 years. EEG data of 72 children aged 2.5 – 3.5 years obtained from the YOUth Cohort Study. The first objective was to identify predictors of parental gender socialization from the literature. Regarding cognitive factors, parents’ gender stereotypes and attitudes and gendered attributions seemed directly related to gender-differentiated parenting. Other cognitive factors (conflict resolution, gender essentialism, gender identity, intergroup attitudes, internal motivation to parent without stereotypes) appeared to be related to gendered behavior in general. Regarding neural factors, brain areas associated with attentional processing, conflict monitoring, and reward processing appeared directly related to parental gender socialization. Brain areas related to behavior regulation were found to be modulated by gender stereotypes. The second objective concerned the relation between parents’ brain responses toward gender stereotypes and their gender socialization practices. It was first examined which of two frequently-used tasks elicited more robust patterns of brain activity during EEG measurements. The Impression Formation elicited more differences in the neural processing of gender-stereotype violations and gender-stereotype confirmations than the Implicit Association Test. Second, it was examined whether (non-)parents showed differentiated neural processing of gender-stereotype violations and gender-stereotype confirmations. Differentiated early visual neural processing was observed, with more processing directed toward gender-stereotype violations than confirmations. Parents’ early processing elicited by gender-stereotype confirmations from their own children were related to parents’ use of gender labels during picture book reading with their children. Gender stereotypes additionally modulated neural salience processes, but in different directions: Parents showed enhanced neural salience processing of gender-stereotype violations versus confirmations by their own children but not for unknown children. For non-parents, salience processing was larger toward gender-stereotype confirmations than violations. The third objective concerned the relation between children’s gender-typed problem behaviors and parental gender socialization. No evidence was found for the relation between children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors and parental gender socialization practices. Finally, it was examined whether effects of parental gender socialization were evident in preschool children’s gender stereotypes. Findings indicated that 3-year-old children displayed preliminary signs of gender-stereotyping, evidenced in enhanced neural attentional processing when viewing male happy faces compared to female happy faces. Moreover, 3-year-olds showed increased neural salience processing when viewing same-gender happy faces than other-gender happy faces. This dissertation demonstrated that parents’ gender cognitions and brain processes related to attentional and salience processing, conflict monitoring, and reward processing, could explain why parents engage in traditional forms of gender socialization. These gender socialization practices might have important consequences for children’s development of gender stereotypes.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • van Baar, Anneloes, Supervisor
  • Endendijk, Joyce, Co-supervisor
Award date19 Apr 2024
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Print ISBNs9789039376560
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2024


  • gender socialization
  • early childhood
  • electroencephalography
  • gender cognitions
  • parenting
  • neural processes
  • gender stereotypes


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